This book is dedicated to my daughters Jessica, Cassandra & Mikayla They have been my strength through my hardest times.
©JACQUELINE BUTLER 2009 Jacqueline Butler
And other short stories
1. The Girl Who Turned Into a Mermaid
'Twas Friday morn when we set sail, And we had not got far from land, When the Captain, he spied a lovely mermaid, With a comb and a glass in her hand. The Mermaid by Author Unknown
Cassandra shifted impatiently from foot to foot waiting for her little sister to finish brushing her hair. “Kayla!!” she screamed, “hurry up we gonna miss them leaving.” Kayla ignored her and carried on brushing. Cassandra stamped her foot and stormed out of the room. She silently screamed in her head. Her little sister frustrated her so much and she knew that today was important for all of them. Dad was leaving with the other fishermen this afternoon to go to Inishturk Island to fish, and the girls were allowed to help prepare for the trip. She knocked on her eldest sister’s door and heard a mumble. She opened the door and peered inside. Jessica was still in bed, head under the pillow. “Jess, are you coming with us to the harbour?” “No, now leave me alone and get out of my room!” she shouted. She shouted all the time, mom said it was because she was a teenager or something, I knew it was because she was unhappy. Jess hardly smiled anymore since we moved to the little island of Toraigh off the coast of Ireland. It was supposed to be a new beginning for them all, but so far nothing seemed to have changed from the life they had in London, except maybe they could hardly understand the people here. The people on the island still spoke Gaelic and were really really old fashioned and said stuff like “we are going to Ireland to do shopping”, as if they didn’t come from Ireland. Mom called it an island of mystery and antiquity (whatever) and Cassandra actually loved the music and stories and even the ancient custom of appointing an island king or Ri Thorai. One day she would be king or queen. She wondered if there could be a queen. She shrugged and started her walk to the small harbour. She was quite happy except for her little sister who just seemed to rub her up the wrong way all the time. She hummed to herself as she walked through the fields of wild flowers past the ruins of St.Colmcille’s monastery and the Tau Cross (she knew all this because her mom had told her). She said that Egyptians had even come to the island long ago. “Wait, wait for me!” she heard behind her. Great. Her little sister came running down the hill and grabbed her hand. Cassandra pulled her hand away just to show her who’s boss. “Chailini” shouted one of the fishermen. That meant girls. We both knew that because that’s what we were called all the time. “teacht anseo agus féach cad tá mé.” We were supposed to know what that meant!? Then she saw her father. He waved at them and called them over. Mikayla was hesitant but Cassandra ran into his embrace. Cassandra was the forgiving kind but Mikayla never forgot. At 9 years old she was old enough to know that her mother was fighting a losing battle with her dad. Cassandra was 10 and Jessica was 17 and they just seemed to love him to bits. Mikayla, however, knew that he was no good. He drank too much, was always shouting at them and mom and she wished that he would just go away. Well now he was. Yay. They spent the rest of the morning helping the fishermen and their father packing crates and rolling up ropes and packing the tinned food into the little cupboards in the galley. Then it was time to leave. There were lots of tears and hugging and the girls stood on the pier watching the boat sail away as the sun set. Mom and Jess never came but dad didn’t seem to mind or maybe he just didn’t care. They strolled back home and for once held hands and neither said a word, each lost in their own little world. They had supper in silence and everyone went to bed early. Mom came in a bit later and tucked us in. “I love you girls, everything will be okay, I promise.” This was her litany at bed time, but we never minded and we loved her for it. “Cassandra, tomorrow you must take muffins to town to Mrs. O’Shea’s shop, she is going to try them and if she likes them, then she will order from me every week. Isn’t that great? Maybe I can use my cooking skills here after all. Micky you must help Jess sort out the garden; we need to plant some vegetables soon.” She looked tired and beaten but kept a smile on her face. Both girls hugged her and kissed her good night. The next morning the girls were up early getting ready for their daily chores and Cassandra was excited to go to town by herself. She helped her mom pack the muffins in a basket and set off with a skip in her step. The town was on the other side of the island and Cassandra had to walk past Balor’s Fort or as the locals called it Dun Bhaloir. This was the highest part of the island and you could see for miles in every direction. The sea was the most incredible blue and there was not a cloud in the sky. The air smelt sweet with the scent of wild flowers and there was the slightest breeze coming off the sea. It was the most glorious day for an adventure. Cassandra dropped the muffins off at Mrs. O’Shea’s coffee shop and then started back home. She stopped at the Wishing Stone and made a wish, a very special secret wish and carried on up the hill. She decided to walk around the island and do some exploring. As she walked she started humming a song “Last Easter day, in the morning fair, We was not far from land, Where we spied a mermaid on the rock, With comb and glass in hand.” She stopped in surprise. She didn’t know this song, but somehow she knew it and was humming it in her head she also had the strangest feeling she was being watched. She looked around but saw no-one. “Hello beag amhain.” She heard. It was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard and she understood what it meant. “Hello little one.” She turned slowly towards the sea and there on a rock in front of her sat the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. Cassandra rubbed her eyes and shook her head, thinking it was the hot sun and her eyes playing tricks on her. It was a mermaid! She was lovely and graceful with the tail of a fish and web-like scales between her fingers. She wore a gown as white as sea foam trimmed with red and purple seaweed. The sea water glistened in her black hair like dew and she had on a red hat with a feather in it and a sleeveless cloak that clung to her. She was lounging on the rock combing her hair and smiling a very alluring smile. “Hello”, Cassandra replied tentatively. “Are you real?” “Yes, of course, you can see me can’t you?” the mermaid teased. “But there are no such things as mermaids, everyone knows that.” Cassandra replied. “Well, I am very much real, and I have come to answer your wish.” Cassandra was confused for a minute and then remembered the wish that she had made at the Wishing Stone. It had been a silly wish to become a mermaid or even a dolphin. “My name is Muruch and I live not far from here in a place called Faoi na Farraige, which is actually just under the sea.” She laughed and it sounded like bells ringing. Cassandra was entranced and afraid and excited all at once. This simply couldn’t be happening to her, it wasn’t real or possible. “Teacht Anseo,” said the mermaid, “ná ní bheidh eagla ar”. All of a sudden Cassandra wasn’t afraid anymore. She understood the mermaid and felt calm. She walked towards the water and the mermaid and the start of the adventure she had wished for. Muruch took her cap off and put it on Cassandra’s head and then the most amazing thing happened. Cassandra felt a tingle in her legs and she looked down and saw her legs were becoming hazy, sort of shimmering. “Quickly, into the water.” Cassandra stepped into the water and immediately her legs turned into a beautiful golden tail. She gave a quick shake and she was swimming. Wow, this was amazing. “You must keep the hat on if you want to stay in the water,” said Muruch, “oh yes, and if you want to breathe under water. It is magic.”
Muruch dived under the water and disappeared. Cassandra followed her and soon found herself in an enchanted world. Cassandra started singing the song from the Little Mermaid and laughed in delight as bubbles came out of her mouth. The seaweed is always greener In somebody else's lake You dream about going up there But that is a big mistake Just look at the world around you Right here on the ocean floor Such wonderful things surround you What more is you lookin' for? Yes she agreed to herself, what more is you lookin’ for? “Hello” someone shouted and Cassandra was surprised to see a school of Clown Fish swim past her. Oh my, this was just like being in the Little Mermaid or even Finding Nemo. “Where’s your dad?” she shouted back and laughed. Somehow the sea creatures were real but not really real, like sort of animated, they all looked like they had been colored in or painted or something. She followed Muruch to a cave and they swam into it. It wasn’t dark in the cave and she could see the other side which was very bright. They passed through a curtain of glittering stars and arrived in the most beautiful place Cassandra had ever seen. It was a forest, with a stream flowing through and soft green grass on the banks and strange looking plants and lots of color every where, but what stopped Cassandra in her tracks were the creatures. Her mouth hung open and her eyes were wide. For there in front of her playing on the grass were fairies and elves, and there on the bank of the stream were more mermaids, and walking out of the forest was a unicorn and something that looked half man half horse and and everywhere she looked were mythical creatures going about their daily business. Muruch smiled at Cassandra and took her hand and led her out of the water. “Welcome to Faoi na Farraige.” She said. “Come I will take you to meet our Queen Glynde.” There was silence as they walked passed the fairies and elves and leprechauns and unicorns. Everyone or thing just stopped and stared. They came to an opening in the forest a circle of trees surrounding a glade filled with flowers of every color imaginable. Cassandra gasped when she saw the queen of fairies. She was exquisite. With long golden hair and gold dress that shimmered as it caught the light. Her wings were white with tiny blue stars on them and there was a bird perched on her hand. She said something to it and it flew away. She turned to Cassandra and smiled. “Welcome little one.” She said. Her voice sounded like wind chimes. Cassandra was speechless. Never in her life had she seen such beauty, it was all around her. Cassandra walked towards the queen and curtsied. The fairy queen laughed and touched Cassandra’s head lightly.
QUEEN GLYNDE, QUEEN OF FAOI NA FARRAIGE AND ALL MYTHICAL CREATURES “Your wish was granted Cassandra, and now you are a mermaid, but you will have to go home soon as you mother and sisters miss you very much and are worried about you.” “But I want to stay here with you; it is what I have always wanted.” She cried. “No, your life is in the human world, but I understand why you have made this wish and I am going to help you. Your father is not coming back but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you or your sisters. He has chosen his path and his life and it does not include you and you need to be strong for your sisters. You must choose your path now for your life and be happy.” Cassandra sobbed quietly as the hurt she felt finally escaped her broken heart. After a while the crying stopped and she felt better and could smile. Yes, the fairy queen was right. Everything was going to be okay, she just knew it. “Can I come and visit you? Can I bring my sisters?” she asked. “No, I am sorry,” the fairy queen replied, “this will be our secret and our world will be under threat if others found out about it. But you can stay awhile and then you must go home.” A unicorn walked up to Cassandra and she gently stroked its head. “You can ride me if you want.” She said. Cassandra was thrilled and climbed on its back. The unicorn started trotting and then broke into a run. Cassandra held on to its mane and shrieked in delight. She felt so free and happy. It was amazing. She came back to the clearing and there was a lovely picnic set up for her and there were other fairies there. They were shy at first but then started chattering and giggling as Cassandra curtsied to them and sat down. There were so many treats to eat she didn’t know where to start. There was berry juice, which tasted so sweet and refreshing. There were cakes of all sizes and shapes and colors. There were strawberries and fruit that she didn’t recognize. Every mouthful was exquisite and she ate and ate until her belly was full. “Come,” said the queen, and led Cassandra to a patch of flowers under a tree. “Lie here and rest awhile.” Cassandra lay down and felt so relaxed and happy and safe. Soon she fell into a deep sleep. “Cassandra, Cassandra!” She heard her name being called and sat up with a fright. She was no longer in “fairy land”, but lying on the grass under a tree near the rocks where she had first spotted the mermaid. The sun was almost setting. She saw her mother and sisters in the distance and stood up and waved. The came running towards her. “Sweetie,” her mom cried “where have you been? We were so worried when you never came back.” Her mother hugged her fiercely and her sisters too. She smiled at them. “Everything is going to be okay mom.” She said, “we are going to be fine.” She smiled again still clinging to the memories of her “dream”. Wow, what a dream, it all seemed so real, and she felt great even wonderful and she knew everything was going to be okay from now on. They started the walk home and Cassandra put her hand in her pocket. She felt something there and pulled out a comb made out of sea shells. She gasped; it was the mermaid’s comb. Had it been a dream? She looked at the sea and saw something dive under the water. It looked suspiciously like a young girl with a fish tail.
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